Video: Kenny Dichter on what is next for Wheels Up in 2023
Wheels Up CEO Kenny Dichter on:
- The challenges of a being listed company
- How profit is a bigger priority now
- European expansion opportunities
- His view on climate and ‘plane shaming’.
Growth remains important but profit has become a bigger priority since becoming a listed company in July 2021, Kenny Dichter, the founder and CEO of US private-aviation services provider Wheels Up, told delegates at a special session at Corporate Jet Investor Miami (October 31st – November 2nd, 2022) called ‘The next stage for Wheels Up.’
Interviewed live on stage by Corporate Jet Investor, Dichter described the challenges he has experienced since the company listed raising $650m by merging with a special purpose acquisition company called Aspirational Consumer Lifestyle, which had already been publicly listed.
“The pitches come in a lot faster now,” he said. “Public investors are very focused on [shorter term] performance compared with being a private company. Profitability is probably more important now; public investors tell you what they want, and we have to deliver that. It is more difficult but if you get it right, the rewards are great.”
Asked about the challenges of shifting the culture of the company from growth to one of profitability, he said it is a question of balance. “We aspire to be much bigger than we are. But we need to have very responsible growth and deliver it in a profitable way. I feel we have the right team of talented people to do that.”
On being a listed company now, he also shared some advice he had been given: “Your company is not your stock price and your stock price is not your company. You have to fundamentally believe in what you do every day to support members and staff and the brand. If you do that, things will correlate and come right.”
He also describes how its strategic move into Europe, achieved in January 2022 via the $107m acquisition of Air Partner, which offers jet cards and on-demand charter, was a deal that has only so far scratched the surface in terms of its potential.
“We had to think how we might recreate what we have in the US. Then, the opportunity arose to acquire a partner with an unbelievable 60-year reputation. In one swoop we got 17 countries and hundreds of talented people. And we are just scratching surface. There is an incredible vision for what we can do together globally.”
The broader industry is bullish and well placed to cope with some of the economic turmoil and other challenges facing the world, he said. He acknowledged that the interest rate environment is changing the way people view equities, yet he remains bullish. “Our industry is well placed to weather the down cycle in the stock market better than it ever has. Our business has never flown more hours. I feel bullish about our space,” he said.
Dichter also offered a comment on the trend of climate activists “plane shaming”, naming individuals who own private aircraft and accusing them of contributing to climate change. He believes the business model of companies such as Wheels Up could benefit from this due to the anonymity it can grant customers. “The winners will be the programmatic players,” he said.